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Susan Weaver Jones

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Writing About the Self Leads to Learning About Others

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Sep 6, 2017 11:18:00 AM

susan-weaver-jones.jpgToday's guest blogger is Susan Weaver Jones, an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works as an ESL teacher in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has taught students in Kindergarten through Eighth Grade as a Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, Reading Recovery Teacher, and Literacy Coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in Hameray's Kaleidoscope Collection.

 

As a child, I eagerly read biographies about historical figures, especially those that featured women. I was fascinated to learn about the lives of women, such as Sacagawea, Phillis Wheatley, Maria Mitchell, and Liliuokalani, and their significance in United States history. I was especially interested in the life of Susan B. Anthony, since we shared the same first name! My understanding of our country's past was enriched through reading about many remarkable women and men and their contributions.

Unfortunately, many students today might not be familiar with the names and stories of those who lived long ago, despite their place in history. With a few exceptions, our predecessors often lack the name recognition of contemporary celebrities. The background and importance of our forebears may seem distant and irrelevant to our students. How can we as teachers help our students build meaningful connections between the past and the present?

One way to spark students' interest in biographies links the familiar with the unfamiliar. In this case, the known information involves the people the students know best: the students themselves! As an introductory activity to biographies, have students focus on autobiographical information. With the spotlight turned inward, students can use their vast amounts of expert knowledge about themselves.

To that end, I have modified a Bio Poem format intended for persons whose life histories and accomplishments are well known. The resulting Autobiographical Poem format works well for students whose adult lives and notable achievements are yet to come. You may want to prepare a sample Autobiographical Poem about yourself as a model for your students. Discuss with students possible ways of addressing the details needed to complete their own poems.  

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Once students have worked through creating and sharing autobiographical poems about themselves, help them shift their focus to friends or family members. Students can interview their selected subjects to learn what information could be included when they write Biographical Poems about the other persons.

The Biographical Poem template shown below was adapted from the Autobiographical Poem format. Since both poems describe living persons, the descriptors are phrased in present tense.

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After students experience writing autobiographically about themselves and biographically about people they know, turn their attention to biographies about people they don't know. Choose a biography of a person likely to be unfamiliar to most, possibly all, of the students, and read it aloud to provide a common experience and basis for discussion. One source, the Hameray Biography Series, includes 30 different inspirational individuals who could be of interest to your students.

Once you have read and discussed the chosen biography with your students, guide them through the process of completing Biographical Poems about the person. You may opt to allow some differences between students' poems, as long as the information included in their poems is accurate.

An example of a Biographical Poem about Eleanor Roosevelt is shown below. The details in the poem reflect the content included in Eleanor Roosevelt: A Modern First Lady by Dvora Klein, which is part of the Hameray Biography Series.

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After students have finished listening to the read-aloud biography and have written their Biographical Poems about the subject, provide them with the opportunity to work individually or in small groups. Use multiple biographies on different reading levels about several other historical figures to accommodate students' interests and reading proficiencies. Students who read different biographies about the same person can work together to share information.

>> CLICK HERE TO SEE THIS BOOK <<

To follow up reading and learning about other well-known individuals, students can begin working on Biographical Poems independently or with students working on the same person. Using their familiarity with the Biographical Poem format, students can locate pertinent details to complete poems about their current subjects. (A past tense Biographical Poem template for persons who are no longer living can be downloaded.)

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            By the time students finish their last Biographical Poem, they will have participated in several opportunities to develop appreciation for, interest in, and understanding of the genre of biography. Writing about themselves first allowed them to make connections to other people through Biographical Poems.   

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To download Susan's activity, or an information sheet with key features about the Hameray Biography Series, which contains the books mentioned in this post, click the images below.

 

     Biography Series Highlights     Bio Poems Packet

 

 

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Topics: Teaching Writing, Biography Series, Poetry, Writing Activity

Five-Senses Poems: Expanding Students' Writing

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Jun 16, 2016 3:30:00 PM

susan-weaver-jones.jpgToday's guest blogger is Susan Weaver Jones, an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Knoxville, Tennessee.

What can teachers do when their students' writings have the bare bones of stories or paragraphs but not much else? How can educators encourage their students to expand their writing by adding more information? Simply instructing students to add interesting details to their writing will not help them understand how to incorporate such description. To assist students in expanding their writing, teachers may find a five-senses poem to be an appropriate place to start.

A “five-senses poem” is a non-rhyming poem that follows a certain format. Once the topic is determined, each of the five lines in the poem focuses on a particular characteristic of the topic using a different sense: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling. You can download my reproducible poem template at the bottom of this page

Topic: ___________

It looks like _____________________.        

It sounds like ___________________.

It smells like ____________________.

It tastes like ____________________.

It feels like _____________________.

Modeling the development of a five-senses poem provides the initial support that many students require. Choosing familiar experiences as topics involves students in the thinking process, since many students have relevant background knowledge.

For instance, I have used the topic of recess to introduce five-senses poems to my elementary students. The topic has been successful because recess is an activity in which they all have personal experience, as shown below 

Recess

It looks like kids playing together.

It sounds like friends yelling to each other.

It smells like sweaty socks and shoes.

It tastes like dirt in my mouth.

It feels like my legs are tired from running.

Discussing additional possibilities for the senses as they relate to the topic can help students create their own versions of the poem. Subsequently, students can attempt other five-senses poems on topics such as birthdays, holidays, and seasons with teacher support, as appropriate. As students become proficient in using their senses to describe, they can be guided to include sensory description in their narratives, as well.

Once students have accessed their background knowledge to write five-senses poems about familiar topics, they can learn to use informational texts as resources to create fact-based poems. Depending upon their familiarity with the topic, they may be able to combine their prior knowledge with new information gathered from text, pictures, and discussions. Primary, ELL, special ed, and struggling students may be more dependent than other students on what they learn from teacher-led class discussions and pictures to supplement what they can read.

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For example, when using the book Bat by Lee Waters in the Zoozoo Animal World series, teachers can provide important information about bats' habitats through the talking points on the inside back cover of the book. The following five-senses poem could result from students' knowledge about bats, the text, and the talking points. 

A Bat’s Habitat

It looks like a dark cave.

It sounds like fluttering wings.

It smells like a rainy day.

It tastes like crunchy insects.

It feels like a safe place to sleep upside down.

After modeling and discussion, students could work individually or in pairs to choose animals to read about. Afterward, they could write and illustrate their own five-senses poems about the habitats for the animals they selected, using their texts for reference.

Later, teachers could guide students to use the research-based poems as the basis of paragraphs about the topic. Instead of writing only two or three sentences using their background knowledge or copying sentences from books, students could develop paragraphs using details from their five-senses poems. Consider the differences between the following paragraphs about bats:

Bats live in caves. The caves are dark. Bats fly a lot. 

Bats like to sleep in dark caves. On rainy days, many bats hang upside down in the caves. They fly around at night to find crunchy insects to eat. Then they rest. When the bats wake up, the noisy sound of their wings fill the caves. 

Students can practice reading and writing about chosen topics through five-senses poems. Learning to write five-senses poems can help students include descriptive details and expand their writing, whether they are working on narrative stories or informational paragraphs!

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Susan Weaver Jones has taught students in kindergarten through eighth grade as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, Reading Recovery teacher, and literacy coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in Hameray's Kaleidoscope Collection.

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To download Susan's activity, or an information sheet with key features about the series Zoozoo Animal World, which contain the books mentioned in this post, click the images below.

 

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Topics: Teaching Writing, Animals, Zoozoo Animal World, Poetry, Writing Activity

Cinquain Poems: Transition to Expository Writing

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Mar 3, 2016 3:36:54 PM

susan-weaver-jones.jpgToday's guest blogger is Susan Weaver Jones, an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works as an ESL teacher in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has taught students in Kindergarten through Eighth Grade as a Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, Reading Recovery Teacher, and Literacy Coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in Hameray's Kaleidoscope Collection.

 

Teaching primary students how to read informational text is one thing. Teaching them how to write it is definitely something else! Then consider the challenge of working with intermediate students who struggle with writing or who are reluctant writers. What's a teacher to do?

With increasing emphasis on incorporating more expository text into literacy instruction, teachers may wonder how to best foster informational writing. Cinquain poems are one way to effectively link informational writing with description found in both narrative and expository writing.

Because cinquain poems do not rhyme and contain limited text within a specific format, they often appeal to students who prefer tasks with less writing. Cinquain poems are five-line poems that utilize different parts of speech, beginning with nouns. Though several variations exist, one version uses the following format. (Please see the reproducible cinquain template below.)

Noun
Adjective   Adjective
Verb with -ing   Verb with -ing   Verb with -ing
Descriptive phrase or short sentence
Synonym for noun

 For primary students who are not accustomed to using factual sources beyond themselves, the selection of nouns, adjectives, and verbs for the poems requires them to select key words that capture essential aspects of the subjects. Informational texts, such as Puffins by Lee Waters in the Zoozoo Arctic Animal World Collection, can provide important information about unfamiliar topics when students lack sufficient background knowledge and need additional resources. 

Consider this cinquain, based on the text and talking points in the early reader, Puffins.

Puffin
Colorful   Hungry
Flapping   Flying   Swimming
Likes to paddle in the water
Sea parrot

 Initially, teachers can model the process of writing cinquain poems by using topics with which the students are familiar. Familiar topics allow students to use their collective background knowledge as they experience the line-by-line creation of group cinquains. Later, students can experiment with less familiar topics once they have appropriate resources from which to gather needed information, as well as experience with the cinquain format. 

Here is a cinquain based on another bird, the bald eagle. Most primary students probably know more about eagles than puffins, so books, such as Bald Eagle by Lee Waters from the Zoozoo Forest Animal World Collection, can add to their knowledge. The text and talking points at the back of the book provide needed information.

Bald eagle
Fast   Light
Soaring   Grabbing   Eating
Builds big nests
National bird

 Cinquain poems are stand-alone, end products that can be illustrated and shared. However, they also provide students with key concepts that can become the basis for informational paragraphs. Read the following paragraph, which is based on details about bald eagles from the cinquain.

A bald eagle is a bird. It flies very fast. It is light, not heavy.
It soars in the air and grabs fish to eat. It can build a really big nest.
The bald eagle is the national bird for the U.S.A.

 

Here is another example of an informational paragraph written from the key concepts used in the cinquain about puffins.

Puffins are birds with colorful beaks and legs. They like
to swim in the ocean. They can catch 10 fish at one time. When
they paddle, they look like they're flying in the water. Some people
call them "sea parrots."

 

Teacher-led discussions about key concepts access students' background information from their own experiences and other resources. Those discussions are crucial for students, so they can verbalize different possibilities for the cinquains and the paragraphs, prior to recording their chosen information. In the paragraphs, the students can elaborate upon the key concepts.

Students can enjoy writing cinquain poems as they focus on informational text. Then they can learn how to expand their writing into sentences and paragraphs by using the cinquain poems as basis for discussion prior to further composing. Because the cinquains help students transition from outside sources to their own written expression, they are less likely to plagiarize source materials. Students can creatively demonstrate what they have learned about informational topics through poetry and expository writing. Happy writing!

 

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To download Susan's activity, or an information sheet with key features about the series Zoozoo Animal World, which contain the books mentioned in this post, click the images below.

 

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Topics: Teaching Writing, Animals, Zoozoo Animal World, Poetry, Writing Activity

Writing in Science through Leveled Texts—with FREE Download!

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Dec 18, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Today's guest blogger is Susan Weaver Jones, an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has taught students in indergarten through eighth grade as a Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, Reading Recovery Teacher, and Literacy Coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in the Kaleidoscope Collection. You can read her other guest posts here.

Using a variety of leveled informational books on a single topic can address the challenge of finding appropriate, content-area texts for elementary students to read. Now, imagine how those same selections could help students successfully transition from reading about the topic to writing about it!

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The jot chart used to record answers to specific questions about a content-area topic during reading can be modified slightly to support students who will use their notes for writing about the topic.  (See guest blog titled Differentiating in Science through Leveled Texts.)  Adding space to record an interesting fact and/or a thought- provoking question, as well as providing room to write a short conclusion, gives young writers an organizational structure from which to form their paragraphs.  

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Guiding students through the reading, questioning, note-taking, and paragraph formation to create a class product, in which each student produces the same written report, can serve as a model for their future content-area writing.  Unfortunately, when students begin working more independently on content-area research, they sometimes have difficulty combining and/or rewording the information they've located, so they resort to plagiarizing their sources.  How can teachers guide students through content-area writing that reflects students' own wording and voice? 

An engaging approach that reduces plagiarism while blending creative writing with factual information is the RAFT writing strategy (Santa,1988).  RAFT is an acronym that stands for Role, Audience, Format, and Topic.  Often in school, the role of the writer is that of a student, the audience is the teacher, the format is a report, and the topic is whatever the teacher assigns.  With RAFT, new possibilities abound! 

Recently, I worked with second-grade students on a nonfiction selection about the desert.  After they read about desert animals included in the selection, I referred the students to additional resources about the desert.  I asked each one to choose a desert animal they found interesting.  Once the animals were identified, students worked with the different texts to locate details about their animals.  They used their jot charts to record what their animals looked like, what the animals' habitats were like, and what the animals ate.  They also had to find at least one other interesting fact for each animal that could become the basis of an intriguing, introductory question.

At the outset of this writing project, I advised the students that they would end up writing as if they were the desert animals they had picked instead of just reporting on the animals.  The change to a first-person perspective meant that the students would use the pronoun I in their finished products instead of it or they, as would usually occur in reports written from the third-person point of view.  The students were initially uncertain about this unexpected twist, but they soon warmed up to the idea! 

This RAFT assignment allowed each student to assume the role of a desert animal, write to the audience of someone wanting to visit the home of the animal, and use the format of an introduction, all based upon the topic of the desert animal chosen.  Many of the students discovered that their animals weren't particularly friendly, so we decided to use that characteristic to advantage.  For animals that were especially fierce, the students had great fun writing with a hostile attitude towards their imaginary visitors!  They also enjoyed creating pictures to accompany their introductions.

When students shared their written animal introductions with the class, interest was high for them (and for me), as we listened to factual information about various desert animals presented in a format that was entertaining, as well as informative!   Such variety would not have been likely if students had been limited to a single text that some could read and some could not.  Using different leveled books on the same general topic allowed for differentiation in reading and writing!

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If you'd like to learn more about our Zoozoo Animal World series or My World series, click the images below to download series highlight sheets! Click the worksheet image at the bottom to download the free jot chart.

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Topics: Informational Text, Animals, Zoozoo Animal World, Susan Weaver Jones, My World

Differentiating in Science through Leveled Texts—with FREE Download!

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Nov 6, 2014 8:00:00 AM

Today's guest blogger is Susan Weaver Jones, an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has taught students in Kindergarten through Eighth Grade as a Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, Reading Recovery Teacher, and Literacy Coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in the Kaleidoscope Collection. You can read her other guest posts here.

Teaching science in the primary grades can be challenging, depending upon the resources available. Hands-on, participatory experiments successfully capitalize on students' curiosity and interest in exploration. However, class-size amounts of consumable materials and needed equipment may be limited, due to budget constraints. In addition, some science topics may require more reading-to-learn opportunities due to practicality, as well as cost.

The same funding issues can affect textbook availability, too. Even when textbooks are provided, though, concerns may arise about the difficulty of the textbooks as compared with students' reading abilities. Given the range of reading levels in many elementary classrooms, coupled with unfamiliar science vocabulary, the difficulty of many science textbooks may exceed the instructional reading levels of some students. What alternative instructional options do teachers have

One strong possibility encourages teachers to differentiate by borrowing and/or building collections of informational books on different reading levels. By utilizing a variety of leveled texts on the same topic, most students can read more than one book about the selected topic, while ensuring that even the lowest -performing readers have at least one text that is manageable. For emergent readers and ESL students, wordless informational books can supplement leveled, non-fiction books. The photographs in the books engage the students and build their vocabulary through discussion. (See Hameray's My World Collection, Zoozoo Animal World series, and Zoozoo Into the Wild for books appropriate for early and emergent readers.) 

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Using a variety of science-oriented texts means that some facts will likely be included in several books, while other information might appear in only one or two. The differences between texts allow for reinforcement and confirmation of concepts in some cases and for introduction of new ideas in others. The variety of texts fosters the search for and the discovery of previously known and unknown facts, which can be shared with all

Before reading, teachers can access their students' prior knowledge through discussion of a KTWL chart. Determine what the students already know, what they think they know, and what they want to learn. At the conclusion of the study, the teacher can revisit the chart with the class to find out what the students have learned. If some questions are left unanswered, the teacher may choose to reference other sources through online research to satisfy students' inquiries.

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Students can keep track of the information they locate through the use of jot charts. Jot charts are simple graphic organizers that allow writers to keep information about topics in one place. Using selected questions from the KTWL charts (which could vary by student, as needed), students record answers to the questions and include the title and author of each source on the jot charts. When students use nonfiction texts in conjunction with jot charts, they learn how to seek information and take notes from sources other than themselves. Some students might record information from single texts (including photographs), while other students might be capable of using information from two or three sources in their jot charts. The jot charts can then serve as references for students to review information and as means to summarize their learning. Students can also refer to the photographs in leveled texts to create illustrations that depict the information they've learned. No longer solely dependent on what they can remember after reading, students can reread and compare their information with others from their jot charts.

When teachers incorporate different levels of text on the same topics to accommodate their students' reading levels in content areas such as science, they open up new avenues of learning for all of their students!

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If you'd like to learn more about our Zoozoo Animal World series, click the images below to download series highlight sheets! Click the worksheet image at the bottom to download the free charts.

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Jot Chart and KTWL Chart

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Topics: Informational Text, Zoozoo Into the Wild, Animals, Zoozoo Animal World, Susan Weaver Jones, My World

Informational Texts Can Build Background & Augment Prior Knowledge

Posted by Susan Weaver Jones on Jul 31, 2013 8:00:00 AM

Today's guest blogger is Susan Weaver Jones, an elementary educator from Orlando, Florida, who currently works in Knoxville, Tennessee. She has taught students in Kindergarten through Eighth Grade as a Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, Reading Recovery Teacher, and Literacy Coach. She is also the author of three leveled readers in the Kaleidoscope Collection.

As a child growing up in Florida, I had a nodding acquaintance with infrequent freezing temperatures during winterbut none at all with snow. In school, I read stories about children playing in the snow, sledding down hills, and building snowmen, but I had no personal experience with such activities. However, I would see televised weather reports of blizzards in northern states and watch movies set in cold climates. Those media provided information that supplemented my knowledge about seasonal weather. Even though

I lacked prior knowledge about snow from my own life, I learned about snow from others' accounts. Their experiences served to broaden my snow-deprived background!

Horse Cover.newOur students also have gaps in their prior knowledge that can interfere with their learning if not addressed. That's why we need to provide students with background information, relevant artifacts, and related experiences, so they have enough knowledge to make sense of what they're studying. Of course, because our students come to school with a variety of life experiences, they will have different strengths and needs. Despite those differences, we can even the playing field by providing shared experiences that introduce concepts to some students while reinforcing them for others.

Looking through sample copies of early nonfiction readers in Hameray's Zoozoo Animal World series, I reflected on primary-age students I've taught. What prior knowledge would they have already had about the animals in this series? What additional background might they have needed?

My students, as a whole, would have had some degree of knowledge about horses, one of the animals included in the Farm Animals Set. The students who lived in rural areas would have had firsthand knowledge about horses on their family farms. However, even most of my city kids would be familiar with horses from county fairs, parades, television, movies, magazines, and/or books. The overwhelming majority of my students would have had enough information about horses to feel comfortable discussing the subject. 

I've learned that allowing students to talk about what they know, perhaps in response to specific questions after introducing the topic (i.e., How are horses the same as other mammals? How are they different?), gives them the opportunity to learn from each other. If I listen to my students discuss their responses, I gain insights into what they know, what they don't know, and what misinformation is confusing them.

Puffin CoverIn contrast, most of the students I taught probably knew very little about puffins, aquatic birds featured in the Arctic Set of the Zoozoo Animal World series. If I mentioned puffins, my students would be more likely to think of the Big, Bad Wolf huffin' and puffin' in The Three Little Pigs than of colorful birds that live in cold regions! 

If I showed students photos or videos of puffins in their habitat, my students could develop frames of reference from which they could begin to note similarities and differences between puffins and other birds, linking the unfamiliar to the familiar. When I add to students' prior knowledge through various means,

I need to permit them the opportunity to discover some connections for themselves. Teachers can act as tour guides to the destination, stepping back as appropriate, so students revel in the joy of discovery as they explore new information.

In the midst of that exploration, students' interests are piqued, and because they're curious, they want to learn more! Building background has a bonus: It motivates and creates a mindset for learning!

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Though our students may have geographical bounds or other constraints that limit their personal experiences, we can intervene by enhancing their prior knowledge with additional information and experiences that expand the background they need!

- Susan Weaver Jones

If you'd like to learn more about our Zoozoo Animal World Series, click the image below to download a series highlight sheet!

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Topics: Informational Text, Animals, Guest Blog, Zoozoo Animal World, Susan Weaver Jones, Background Information, Prior Knowledge

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